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City of Nemi is seeking compensation from Germany for destruction of famous Caligula’s ships


Caligula's ship from the 1930s.
Caligula's ship from the 1930s.

The authorities of the Italian city of Nemi, located 30 km from Rome, are demanding 30 million compensation from Germany for the destruction of the remains of Roman ships of Caligula during World War II.

The shipwrecks were recovered in 1929 after Lake Nemi (Nemorensis Lacus) was drained at the behest of Benito Mussolini. Then they were placed in the local museum, which unfortunately in May 1944 was completely burned down. None of the two has survived to this day. After losing such a valuable monument, everyone was blamed for destruction. The Italians accused the Germans of deliberately burning them down when they recalled the American attack.

Why were the ships unique? The ships were monumental and full of amazing technology. They were over 70 meters long and 24 wide, a system of supplying hot and cold water (pipes with the name of the emperor), bathrooms and baths. Everything in marbles, gold and ivory. Undoubtedly they served the Emperor’s private pleasures – a large living room, kitchen or bedroom indicate that the ships were treated as mobile palaces. They contained Archimedes’ screws (the oldest known to us), an extremely rare anchor of admiralty at that time; piston pumps (discovered again only in the Middle Ages). Both had a system of moving sculptures (modelled on the theatre) with a ball bearing system. Two ships were a little different from each other – one was a galley (driven by oars), the other was sailing on the strength of the wind.

Lake Nemi
Author: Livioandronico2013 | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Caligula, commissioning the construction of such “palaces on the water” modelled on the glamour of the Hellenistic rulers of Syracuse and the Ptolemaic dynasty. To this day, speculations are underway – why Caligula decided to build these large ships just on the small lake Nemi, which area was 1,67 square kilometres, and the maximum depth was 33 meters. In ancient Rome, the lake was sacred and it was not allowed to sail on its surface1. Probably a friendly climate played a decisive role. Many patricians spent their free time in this area and rested. In addition, the ships were considered to be static barges.

The loss of these amazing structures at the end of World War II was a shock to public opinion all around the world. To this day, various associations are considering attempting to recreate these two monuments. So far, the closest implementation of the plan was “Diana Project”, inaugurated in 1995. It was believed that a budget of 10,7 million dollars are needed. Eventually, work on the reconstruction of ships was stopped, and the website of the Dianae Lacus Association (the main initiator of the project) ceased to exist in 2011.

The current demands of the city of Nemi to Germany have renewed hope that Roman mighty ships will be rebuilt on a full scale.

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